Alice and the Warden – 8

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Hackett arranged to have the prison’s school teacher tutor Alice privately on the weekend, and she was delighted to discover that she was speeding through the lessons. With nothing better to do during most of the day, she buried herself in books and branched out into studying nonfiction, then excitedly told Hackett about everything that she was learning over breakfast. He predicted that she would pass the GED exam with flying colors, and could move on to higher education if she wanted to. Alice was undecided.

As she progressed through the third trimester, she felt increasingly ungainly and shy over the size of her stomach. Worse still, she worried that her face was growing pudgy, and asked Dr. Westley if she was gaining too much weight, then still felt skeptical when he assured her that it was right on the mark. She didn’t dare ask Hackett what he thought of her appearance, out of fear that she wouldn’t like the answer.

But every time she felt Alicia squirm inside her, she grew increasingly excited about seeing her baby soon. She continued to mark the days off on her calendar, and her heart thumped when she flipped to a new month and saw the due date with a big circle around it. Summer would be ending soon, and the start of Autumn came with the promise of a new life.

Alice confessed her fear to Hackett that she would go into labor alone in her tower, and the next morning he arrived with a cellphone. He withheld it for a moment as he said, “Alice … I trust you.”

She nodded somberly as she took it from him. “I won’t betray you,” she promised quietly.

“My number is the only contact. Call me at any time, day or night, if you go into labor – or if you think that there’s anything wrong with you or the baby.” He looked far more serious than Alice had seen him before. “And I will be here as soon as I can with Dr. Westley.”

“Thank you,” she said, and Hackett put his hand on the top her shoulder, so his fingers caressed the back of her neck. Chills traveled down her spine, but her gaze was held by the look in his eyes.

“You will not have this baby alone,” he said.

Alice stared mutely, hypnotized by the moment. She couldn’t tell if she wanted to cry or try to kiss him, so she stood paralyzed. Hackett’s irises were an interesting mixture of brown and green, and they were fixed intently on her, shining as they held her.

“Basil …” she managed to whisper, and he shook himself slightly and pulled his hand away. That decided it: Alice wanted to cry. To cover it up, she looked down at the phone and forced a bratty grin as she said in a tight voice, “Can I text you stupid things whenever I feel like it? Like when I wake up at 3AM?”

“As long as you don’t expect an immediate reply, go right ahead,” Hackett replied.

Something about the tone of his voice made Alice drop the act all together. She had always been proud of the way she could control her emotions, and it had been ages since anyone had seen her cry. But Hackett was going so far out of his way to accommodate her, even when she was deliberately behaving like a snot, that it broke through the wall that she had formed around her heart and she found herself with tears streaming down her face.

“Thank you, Basil, for not leaving me alone,” she sniffled. “I don’t know why you’re so nice to me when I don’t even deserve it.” Embarrassed, she turned to wipe the tears away, but Hackett already had a handkerchief out and gently dabbed at her cheeks.

So she hugged him, and with her giant stomach pressed against him, the baby gave a good hard kick that was obviously directed at Hackett. Despite herself, Alice began laughing through her tears. “Alicia says, ‘Go away!’” she exclaimed as she stepped away. She took the handkerchief from Hackett and continued to dry her eyes, then said, “These darn pregnancy hormones are getting the best of me. I’m sorry about all of that … But seriously, who keeps a handkerchief these days? You are so old-fashioned!”

Hackett smiled. “It comes in handy when I need to comfort beautiful maidens … and for you, too.”

Alice lightly punched him in the arm, then laughed. “Apparently Alicia has the right idea about how to treat you. Do you want it back?” She held the handkerchief out towards Hackett, but he shook his head.

“Keep it. You still have a while to go before you’re done with those pregnancy hormones.” Hackett excused himself to get back to his work, but before he left he paused in the doorway and said quietly, “I’m nice to you because I like you, Alice, and I hope you do start texting me.” His words were followed by the familiar sound of a key locking the door.

Basil.

Alice felt like she could swoon, so she sat in the nearby chair, grinning uncontrollably at the cellphone she held in her hand.

The stupid warden with the stupid name, whom she had vowed to hate forever, liked her.

And it made her ecstatically happy.

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